Green business concept suit and tie

Turning green ‘blah, blah, blah’ into real carbon reduction

Image credit: Dianabahrin/Dreamstime

It's easy for business leaders looking at the big picture of their operations to conclude that only big changes will make an environmental difference. Using the right technology, there’s a lot that can be done lower down the chain.

Nvidia recently announced that it is developing a digital twin of the Earth to aid humanity in its battle against climate change. It’s a neat idea, but not all attempts to combat the climate crisis need to be so grandiose in order to be effective.

If we really want to tip the scales, we need small actions from the majority rather than bold gestures from the few. There is no panacea for climate change, as the COP26 summit in Glasgow underlined, but if you’re a business owner with sustainability on your mind, and you want to make changes that aren’t dismissed as blah, blah, blah, the technology to make a difference is already at your disposal.

When it comes to the climate, carbon is a cost. What if you could intelligently price-in the carbon footprint of every single operational decision you take as a business, just as you would with time and resources? Not only might you unlock further cost-saving and efficiency gains, but you’d also gain a competitive foothold in an increasingly climate-conscious market. Most importantly, you’d have the means to translate talk into action. But how would it work? Moreover, how would it work for your business?

It’s become common practice for companies to publicly disclose their carbon emissions. It’s been a legal requirement for large organisations in the UK since 2019, and even in the US, where carbon reporting isn’t currently mandated, one in five companies voluntarily disclose their carbon output. For the majority of businesses, it’s a great way to shore up their ESG (environmental  and social governance) status and prove that they adequately comply with compliance and regulations standards, but why stop there?

Large corporations are used to counting their carbon output on a grand scale, but without focusing on carbon output at a micro level, they’re likely to be missing out on a lot of carbon-reduction potential.

For instance, instead of a distribution and logistics company passively recording its carbon output, making macro decisions such as bringing in more efficient vehicles, it could use modelling to identify missed opportunities on a micro-level. The routes drivers take, for example. Or being able to accurately forecast disruption caused by heavy traffic and adverse weather conditions that could lead to idling carbon emissions. When a company looks at the big picture, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that only big changes will suffice, but there’s a great deal that can be done lower down the chain.

Making small tweaks to individual processes and working to optimise workflows in terms of carbon reduction - as well as labour and profit - can add up to massive, tangible environmental benefits. By looking at carbon reduction through this end of the telescope,  this same approach can be taken not just by large organisations that need to report on it, but by companies of all sizes that want to make a difference. Reviewing every operational process then becomes an opportunity to consider how each might be done in a more energy-efficient way so that small ripples can in fact make great waves across industry.

Advances in process simulation modelling and the application of digital-twin technology have helped to all but eliminate uncertainty from the decision-making process. Manufacturers can look at everything from their supply-chain routes to the configuration of their in-house machinery and make potentially game-changing business decisions based on accurate forecasts that can save them time, optimise productivity and maximise profit.

What if that same technology was applied to carbon output using accurate, real-time data? A business would be able to measure, track and optimise carbon impacts at every single point along any of its operational processes. Just as your business optimises for cost, it could also optimise for the environment, striking a golden balance between the two.

As we grow more climate-conscious as a society, businesses that factor in carbon as a ‘cost’, streamlining it in the same way they do other aspects of their business, will be the ones that come out on top. Simply put, with the help of simulation there is no reason why carbon impact can’t be built into every single process and decision your business makes - the technology is here.

We’re already seeing simulation and predictive artificial intelligence being used to help businesses include carbon as a cost, allowing them to continue to maximise their business gains without neglecting their environmental responsibility. This should already be the norm, and soon will be, so those that are already taking action will find themselves ahead of the curve.

Take the packaging process across an automotive supply chain, for instance. The theory is that if you can use modelling to increase ‘pack density’, or the ratio of products in a box versus empty space, by as little as between 3 and 5 per cent, the business will see a huge reduction in the number of boxes and pallets, which will not only translate into cost-saving, but also fewer shipments and less carbon output.

Using the same modelling technology, businesses can create supply-chain simulations that allow them to define and compare supply routes according to key criteria such as cost, lead time and carbon footprint, allowing them to factor in carbon impact when selecting supply contracts and choosing shipping routes.

Given the immediate threat of climate change, it’s hard to explain why more business leaders aren’t adopting readily available simulation technology to make carbon impact an equal part of their decision-making process. After all, simulation is perhaps the single most effective tool businesses have at their disposal to turn ‘blah, blah, blah’ into action and prove they’re thinking as much about the climate as they are about profit.

Frances Sneddon is CTO at Simul8.

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